North Korea has crossed the red line, testing its first-ever intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and raising the probability of a North Korea vs. U.S. war to an unprecedented level.
On Tuesday, North Korea sent shock waves around the world – and through its neighbors, in particular – by conducting its first ICBM launch. The advanced missile, which has never been tested by North Koreans before, has a theoretical range of about 5,500 kilometers (3,400 miles), according to a U.S. defense official cited by CNN.
That means the missile could strike Alaska and that North Koreans may be just a few steps away from developing a missile capable of striking the U.S. mainland. The North’s technological breakthroughs have raised alarm bells all over the world, as the development of an ICBM could mean that the nuclear-armed nation is working on a missile that could carry a nuclear weapon.
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North Korea vs. U.S.: 20% probability of war
The latest provocative moves by North Korea put pressure on the U.S. to react to the pariah nation’s unending development and testing of technologically-advanced missiles. As North Korea has gotten unexpectedly skillful at developing missiles lately, it only means that Washington’s response has to be harsher and clearer.
While U.S. President Donald Trump is likely to strong-arm North Korea both diplomatically and through sanctions, there is a 20% probability of a major military conflict pitting North Korea vs. U.S., as estimated in a Daiwa Securities Group Inc. research paper.
With its first-ever ICBM launch, North Korea may have just prompted Trump to review the possibility of a military response. However, the U.S. President will most likely utilize all non-military options of deterring North Korea before actually resorting to force. Such diplomatic options include fortifying the THAAD missile system, putting more pressure on China, imposing sanctions, further isolating North, and trying to negotiate.
North Korea’s track record shows, however, that it is not interested in negotiations, nor is it intimidated by Chinese pressure, sanctions or isolation. North Korea may be just a few steps away from developing a nuclear-capable missile that can hit the U.S. mainland, which means the U.S. can no longer rule out the possibility of a North Korea vs. U.S. war.
Trump losing his patience over North Korea
North Korea is desperately trying to get Trump’s attention while he battles criticism stemming from the FBI investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Pyongyang certainly succeeded in its efforts, as it tested an ICBM missile on U.S. Independence Day, which was Tuesday.
The same report by Daiwa estimates a 40% chance of a diplomatic resolution of the Korean crisis. However, Trump would have to show the international community that he has exhausted all possible diplomatic efforts to justify launching a military attack against North Korea. The volatile situation could escalate to a major military conflict between North Korea and the U.S. in no time, as North Korea has time and again proved that it’s not interested in halting its missile testing.
Trump seems adamant to resolve North Korea’s nuclear problem at all costs, as the President spoke earlier this year about the possibility of a “major, major conflict” between North Korea and the U.S. In the months following his inauguration, Trump stepped on a path toward reduced tensions on the Korean Peninsula by asking China, the North’s biggest trade partner, to help de-escalate the crisis.
But China’s attempts have had little to no effect on North Korea’s provocative behavior, which is why Trump even ordered U.S. warships into nearby waters and vowed to “solve” the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea vs. U.S.: If it happens, what would it looks like?
As the possibility of a North Korea vs. U.S. war is on the rise due to Pyongyang’s progressing nuclear threat, the military options look scarier than ever. The Pentagon has drafted war plans numerous times over the years to be prepared to respond to the growing North Korean threat.
As the U.S. has been considering retaliatory invasions and limited preemptive attacks, in addition to its regular large-scale military exercises with North’s neighbors South Korea and Japan, the possibility of a military confrontation pitting North Korea vs. U.S. offers a grim outlook.
Even the smallest U.S. surgical strikes into North Korea could result in enormous casualties in both North and South Korea. Pyongyang would most likely not just sit around watching its country get destroyed by Americans, which is why any limited strikes could attract retaliation from the North using thousands of artillery units it has stationed along its border with South Korea.
North Korea vs. U.S. would be unprecedented
Although North Korea does not boast a staggering nuclear arsenal – at least as far as the media is concerned – U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned that if Pyongyang used its nukes, it “would be probably the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetimes.” While it would take the U.S. several days to destroy North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, North Korea vs. U.S. would be unprecedented, as no other country has ever gone to war with another country with the aim of destroying its nuclear arsenal.
As Trump has most likely already reviewed military options to resolve the North Korean crisis, he is not the first U.S. President considering launching a military attack against Pyongyang. In 1994 during Bill Clinton’s presidential term, the Pentagon was pondering surgical strikes on a nuclear reactor in North Korea.
However, the defense secretary at the time, William J. Perry, dropped the plan after he realized that such surgical strikes could trigger a war between North Korea and the U.S. that could claim the lives of hundreds of thousands people. Interestingly, it was more than a decade before Pyongyang launched its first nuclear test, so the stakes are much higher now.
According to multiple estimations in the media, Pyongyang is believed to have more than a dozen nuclear bombs in its possession. For now, North Koreans are capable of mounting those nukes on missiles that can reach most of South Korea and Japan. But North Korea may not be far from possessing a nuclear-armed missile capable of hitting the U.S., as it has made mammoth advances in the nuclear and missile-making fields.